We’re Off On The Road To Beijing…

Kurt —  August 27, 2007

Forgive the corny Hope/Crosby headline, but the USA looks like a lock to go to the 2008 Olympics — and first and foremost this is what had to happen in this Tournament of Americas we’ve all been glued to. (Well, maybe glued isn’t the right word….) After watching all four USA games plus a little here and there from other games, and I think we can safely say the USA is the class of this tournament.

The numbers back that up. Look at some key stats from the top four teams in the tournament.

TeameFG%PaceOff. RatingDef. Rating
Uruguay50.2%77.2107.1 107

(A quick key for those of you new here: eFG%: Shooting percentage combining two and three pointers; Pace, possessions per game; Off. Rating, points scored per 100 possessions; Def. Rating, points given up per 100 possessions.)

The USA not only has its expected best offense (although they still revert to the one-on-one game too quickly), it has been playing the best defense as well. Now, what they have done has not totally eliminated my defensive concerns from last year in Japan — there has been no change in philosophy, they have just put out better defenders and upped the pressure (great story by Eric Neel about the new USA attitude). That’s been more than good enough here, will it be good enough next summer is the question.

The numbers suggest that even without all their best players, Argentina is the second best team, although I think Brazil is pretty close. (Remember, those stats are from just four games, and one of Brazil’s games was against the USA while Argentina has yet to play them.) My guess is that these two teams could meet in one of the semi-final games next Saturday, with an Olympic berth on the line, and that will be quite a game.

After that, the talent drops off pretty far. Uruguay is 3-1 and in second place in their division, but look at their numbers and they should be a .500 team (one of their wins was in overtime against Panama, a team that also took Argentina to overtime). They are a one man crew — Estiban Batista is leading the entire tournament in points and rebounds, averaging 23 and 15. Curious to see him against the USA front line.


The best way to get into what the USA is doing right is to get into a breakdown of the plays that helped them pull away last night against Brazil.

As we pick up the action it was a two-point USA lead with 8:10 left in the second after Barbosa outran the entire USA team down the court, caught the long-heave and laid it in.

USA up 2: After trying a couple other things the USA goes with the pick and roll out on the wing with LeBron handling the ball and Howard throwing a nice elbow into the LeBrons man to slow him, but Nene switches well and handles LeBron, who kicks it back out top of the key to Billups. Chauncey surveys the situation and whips it back into the corner to LeBron, but this time Nene has laid off him, so LeBron drains the three from the corner.

USA up 5: Brazil runs Barbosa off two screens (much like UCLA used Afflalo last year) but Kobe does a good job fighting through them and stays with him. Barbosa is the heart of the Brazilian offensive machine and Kobe put the lockdown on him in this game — Brazil’s other players picked it up for a while but they couldn’t sustain it. Anyway, Barbosa gets the ball as he curls by the free throw line but Kobe is there and Kidd sags down on him, so Barbosa kicks out to Marcelo Machado for a good look three, and while he’s shooting 35% from distance for the tourney he misses this one.

Kidd gets the outlet and pushes the ball up, draws three defenders in the key so he passes to LeBron baseline, who gets trapped by two defenders but makes a nifty bounce pass to Carmelo under the basket. Carmelo misses the first reverse layup but fights to get the ball back, and hits a five-foot fade away using the glass.

USA up 7: After working the ball around a little bit and finding nothing, USA draft legend Tiago Splitter gets the ball out by the three point line just left of the top of the key, and proceeds to blow by Carmelo Anthony and get the layup. Splitter impressed me in this game, he can play. And, not shockingly, he is a good international player who is the property of the San Antonio Spurs.

USA up 5: Off an out of bounds pass (Billups drew a foul from Nene), Kobe comes out on the side to set a pick for Carmelo, but Carmelo goes away from the pick and right at Splitter, and draws the foul while shooting. He hits both free throws.

USA up 7: Brazil’s Joa Paulo Batista gets the ball out by the three point line and shows scouts why he should not get the ball out by the three point line, looking confused and almost making a turnover. Brazil’s Garcia (who is trying to pick up the Barbosa slack as creator) runs up to bail Batista out, gets handed the ball and then blows right past Mike Miller for the layup. (Redd has been great in this tournament, Miller should plan his family vacation next summer in Europe, he’ll have the free time). That would be the last field goal of the half for Brazil.

USA up 5: Kobe quickly gets the ball on the wing and does something very Kobe — destroys his man driving past him baseline, draws two defenders near the basket, and still nearly makes the reverse layup while drawing the foul. He hits one of two.

USA up 6: Batista gets the ball down on the right block and shows scouts why he should gets the ball down on the block, making a neat little bounce pass in the lane to the cutting Garcia, who is fouled while shooting. He hits one of two.

USA up 5: Good recognition of the match up by team USA, Garcia is tasked with covering Kobe, and even the slimmed down version of Kobe is way too much for Garcia on the block, so the USA gets him the ball in the low post (Carmelo steps out on the wing to allow Kobe to post up, then makes the entry pass). Kobe backs Garcia down and scores with a finger roll.

USA up 7: After Amare almost steals the ball from Bastista out by the three point line (what did we say about him away from the block?), Brazil gets a second chance but this time Kidd does get a steal, knocking the ball free from a driving Garcia. This leads to a fast break the other way, where Kidd draws the foul but only hits one of two from the line.

USA up 8 (5:09 left): Brazil calls a timeout, then runs a nice out of bounds play that has Kobe trailing Garcia behind a pick, but while Garcia gets a good look at the three he’s only shooting 20% from distance in the tourney, and true to form he misses. So Kidd pushes the ball up again, but Brazil is back and picks up everyone. Well, everyone but the trailer LeBron, who gets in deep then hits a high archer over the closing defender.

USA up 10: Still not enough shots of the hot Brazilian women you know are in the crowd for this, instead (after a ball knocked out of bounds) we get to watch Valter Da Silva made a nice drive from the top of the key and draw a foul on Kidd. Don’t know much about this guy, but nice free throw stroke.

USA up 8: Brazil decided to press full court and tries to trap Billups, something they tried a few times during the game — trapping the USA guards. It failed just about every time because the USA guards were taller and just passed over the top of it. In this case Billups’ pass out is tipped but still gets to LeBron, who drives from half court into the lane and once every defender is on him he kicks to Kobe for a wide open three from the wing.

USA up 11: Brazil tries the USA’s no-motion offense, apparently just intimidated by the USA pressure defense. When forced to do something with the shot clock winding down they throw the ball out of bounds.

At the other end Brazil chooses do double-team/trap Billups again and with some quick passing around the perimeter Michael Redd gets a good look at a three. He’s shooting 51.6% from downtown for the tourney, but this was part of the other 48.4%.

Brazil comes down with the intention of getting the ball to Nene on the block, but Amare overplays him so the guard moves his entry pass away from Nene a little — out of bounds “a little.”

Back at the USA’s end, LeBron and Amare Stoudemire run a highlight pick and roll — both defenders go to LeBron so he passes for an impressive Amare slam.

USA up 13 (2:53 to go): Brazil wants to go to Nene but Amare is just way too much for him and playing intense defense (and, Nene just looks tired and a little heavy). After Amare knocks one ball out of bounds he eventually forces Nene to take an ugly runner that hits the side of the backboard.

The USA pushes the other way and Redd ends up with the ball in the left corner for a three, but the defender is closing, so he puts it on the floor baseline and as he draws defenders near the basket kicks out to LeBron, who holds it for a second then passes back to Redd, who just continued running through to the opposite corner. His defender did not, Redd gets an open look and buries the three.

USA up 16: Out of a timeout, Brazil is still not coming up with anything good offensively against the USA pressure, the result is a horribly wild three, however Da Silva is under the basket and catches the air ball, then gets fouled trying to shoot. De Silva still has a pretty stroke from the line, I bet that guy could hit 50 in a row.

USA up 14: LeBron draws every Brazilian this side of the Wynn, so a quick pass and Billups gets an open look at a three but misses. At the other end it looks like Brazil is waiting for their playmaker, Barbosa, to shake free of Kobe but he can’t, so De Silva drives, passes near the basket to Nene, who moving toward the rim shoots up into the bottom of the rim (did I mention Nene looks tired?). Ball bounces to the USA, and at the other end it’s LeBron’s turn to play one-on-one NBA-style ball, both inside and out, but Nene plays him well, so LeBron ends up missing the three.

Barbosa looks like he’s got the rebound but before he can take two steps Kobe knocks it free and the USA sets up another possession. They work it around to Redd who shows he can drive the lane too, and scores the layup.

USA up 16: After a foul by Redd that led to an out of bounds play, Marcelo Marchado makes a horrible pass in a crowded lane that LeBron picks off, launches ahead to Kobe, who wants to make the fancy no-look, behind the back pass but misses badly. Fortunately he gets bailed out by the foul. Kobe hits two.

USA up 18… and I could go on, but why bother. Well, there was LeBrons running three to end the half, that was pretty fun. But by that point the game was over.

And pretty much the tournament as well.

to We’re Off On The Road To Beijing…

  1. Kurt,

    Do you think Kobe will gives that intensity on D this year? Because if one player starts hustling like that, the rest are bound to follow, thus increasing our defensive agressiveness.

    I’m just going to wait and see…

    Regarding the USA team, oh well, it’s done. Although I’m really looking forward to see the team play against the top european teams + argentina in full strenght.


  2. I do hope Kobe will up his defensive intensity during the regular season this year, but I think it’s unrealistic to expect it to be as intense as its been in the FIBA tournament. A couple things play into that.
    1. They are playing a maximum of 10 games as opposed to the 82-game gauntlet that the NBA season provides.
    2. Kobe is playing 18 minutes per game.

    He’s playing about the same number of minutes in this tournament as he would be playing in 6 games of the regular season, except without needing to be the focus of the offense.


  3. Exick is right, you just couldn’t play defense like that for 82 NBA games. Kobe is expending a lot of energy on defense because he doesn’t have to carry an offensive load and doesn’t have to play big minutes. Just two totally different situations.

    That said, I think Kobe got off to a slow start defensively last year because his knee was still not 100%, Clearly now it is. And so I expect better defense out of him. And to come to camp energized and enthused.


  4. Got it. However, he should step his D up a notch, at least.


  5. Kurt,

    Great recap. FWIW, my recollection of the “USA up 13” entry, with Redd passing the ball and getting it back in the corner, was that Kobe (not Lebron) was the one who passed up the open shot to give it back to Redd. So if you still have the game recorded you might want to check that.



  6. 5. Oz, it’s possible I was wrong about that. But I erased the Tivo (have to make sure we have the space for “Weeds” tonight), so if anyone has the tape and can confirm one way or the other…..


  7. nice recap kurt.

    i am gonna be the nth person to echo all the sentiments here in that i would love to see kobe bring defensive intensity to the lakers. it has been a joy to see him inspire the rest of team usa to a higher level of play through his commitment to defense and to winning. i think the lakers look to kobe so much in terms of setting the tone, that if he decided to crack down on defense, the rest of the team will fall in line.


  8. Kobe’s defense depends on the effort he gets from his teammates. I can see Fisher bringing a new sense of desire to this team. But if Kwame remains the same lackadaisical guy I remember from last season, then I could see Kobe not caring again.

    It must be refreshing playing with a bunch of guys that actually care about winning on this Olympic squad.


  9. Carter,
    I submit that if Kwame is lackadaisical he will not play – courtesy of Phil Jackson. We have Chris Mihm back and Andrew Bynum should be showing marked improvement. One of the reasons Smush was let go so quickly was his attitude. Phil cannot let anything get out of hand this year.

    That being so, I say Kobe is showing us what to expect this year. Not the extreme defensive intensity (he needs to score too), but the effort and focus on the team.

    If I were Laker players I would plan on a very, very intense year.


  10. Its crazy… Once I heard the words Kwame and lackadaisical, suddenly I thought of something. Can’t we add Wally Szczerbiak to this team? We have some pieces Seattle might like. Wally plays that intense game that Kobe appreciates, a threat at 3, and a good all around game.


  11. I think Seattle and Minnesota are great teams to trade with right now. Will we do it though, probably not.


  12. I bet the Lakers could get Trenton Hassell and Ricky Davis for Kwame and Sasha. Both are expiring whereas Hassell isn’t and Ricky would do nothing but take time and shots from their young guys.

    I think that makes us better.

    I don’t know how invested Seattle is in Nick Collison, if he’s one of their young guys going forward, but I like his game and think he’d be the perfect Power Forward for this Laker team.

    Kwame and a 2008 1st Rounder for Collison?


  13. Regarding Wally Sz: would you rather have Wally or Walton? Because if we get one, the other no longer has a place on the roster. Personally, I’d rather have Walton, but appreciate what you said about Wally’s passion, and that the Lakers need more guys who live and die with each loss.

    As for trading with Minnesota… screw McHale. I feel like he’d ask for the same package we offered for Garnett for a bunch of the new kids they have. He’s not just a bad GM, there are plenty of those in the NBA, guys who make moves that don’t work out, McHale is stupid. The Joe Smith deal. The past few years of not building around Garnett, and failing to trade him for so long. He doesn’t make bad moves, he makes stupid moves. He needs a Bill Simmons VP of Common Sense.

    I don’t think Mitch is stupid, I just think he’s a bad GM because he’s afraid to make a big move. Scared is the best word for him.


  14. How did a Team USA comment thread turn into a trade thread?


  15. Lately they all become trade threads.


  16. For people who love trade speculation, I recommend club lakers or lakersground. Trade rumors galore there. There actually even have one that might have some legs…but I will let you figure it out on your own.

    To go back onto topic the Mexico game was fun to watch. I noticed the offense for Team USA wasn’t nearly as fluid as the other games. Also the effort on defense was there but I don’t think the concentration was. Mexico got a lot of open looks that other teams weren’t getting. I should note they did hit most of the open looks they got which isn’t always going to be likely.

    All in all if Team USA can keep this intensity up they should have no trouble with this tournament and should be fine for 2008. I believe the effort and concentration will be there for the elite teams they will face in the Olympics. Nobody on that team wants to get embarrassed anymore.

    Only concern I have is Wade throwing off the chemistry that is being built now. I actually prefer him not being on the team next year.


  17. I ended up tuning out of the Mexico game at half. It was pretty clear even then that the USA used up their focus on Brazil the night before and were just going through the motions against Mexico. Fortunately, it was a team they could get away with that against.

    Credit Mexico, though, they kept playing hard. I always thought Nolan Richardson could coach, and this seemed a good fit for him.


  18. There isn’t much more you can say about team USA. We are now in practice mode for 2008. The only problem is that the passion must be sustained to avoid the complacency.


  19. I think people go back to trade speculation because the Team USA games really aren’t very interesting. It’s like watching the University of Florida take on a local JV team. I like getting a little fix of NBA guys playing, but how can you even debate the play of the US when there’s such a gap in talent? I thought Brazil might have been tough and we destroyed them. Mexico played as well as they could, we checked out mentally and squeaked by with a 27 point win.


  20. Now, tonight’s game against Puerto Rico could be interesting if the USA plays half-assed like that again. Carlos Arroyo in the backcourt, some other guys with experience. In this tourney, the only way the USA loses if they mail in an entire game against a good team.


  21. Kurt,

    This is the first time in awhile that I don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that USA gets beat. If they win by less than 20 it will be a shocker. I don’t know if it’s having Kobe on the team, the young guys taking it more seriously, or what, but we look so much better than everyone it’s not even funny.

    I will be very, VERY interested in the Olympics, but this tourney is turning into a laugher.


  22. I forgot a third point in my earlier text on Kobe’s defense playing with Team USA vs. with the Lakers.

    3. International refereeing is different than NBA refereeing. Hand checking is still allowed in international ball and Kobe knows this. Watch how much contact these guys get away with and in particular watch how much Kobe uses his hands. If Kobe played defense in the NBA the way he’s playing in this tournament, he’d foul out before halftime.


  23. OK, a propos of nothing but really, who can hate this? Mad Dog doin’ his ’01 dance and speaking Spanish (never heard this part); what does he say in Spanish?



  24. By the way, I put Uruguay in that post because they were 3-1, which was the second best record in the other division. But as they just got their heads handed to them by Canada, I think they may not be very good.


  25. Question for everyone…

    Does anyone else here believe that commercial involvement in American Sports, specifically Basketball and Football, has gotten out of control?

    I can’t even get into a game anymore. Once the momentum starts building in a game, SNAP commercial break. Back to ground zero.

    If you want to see the difference, watch the FIBA game tonight or any MLS soccer game. There is close to zero commercial involvement in these games. I’m not even a big soccer fan, but I find myself more involved in these games because they don’t stop for commercials.

    When do the fans say “enough”???

    Thank GOD for Tivo.


  26. Here’s a seemingly simple but not that easy to define question:

    What makes Kobe great? Makes his such a dominant force?

    I’m not just asking this randomly, there is a reason. Also, I have not come up with an answer I really like.


  27. What makes Kobe great? His talent/ability, competitive drive, and killer instinct to name a few reasons. What’d you come up with?


  28. Off the top of my head…
    1) He has talent and was able to develop it early because of being in the environment of a professional basketball player. He had some knowledge of what was expected of an NBA player.
    2) He has incredible drive and work ethic – seen in most of the greats. Another great talent without the same work ethic was, obviously, Shaq. Shaq should have been the greatest center of all time, except he was willing to settle for just being the most dominant of his era. He didn’t continually try to better his game each year the way Kareem and Magic did.
    3) He has tremendous focus. This is both his real strength and the weakness that makes it hard to blend with a team. His focus is perhaps greater than any other basketball player I have ever seen (I started watching the NBA with Elgin and Jerry coming into the league). This has allowed him to get through his “trials” without breaking down from the public/personal pressure. It has also resulted in an incredible level of stubborness.
    4) Since his dad was an NBA professional, I suspect Kobe may feel he constantly needs to improve, or he will not be worthy. This has been reinforced with all the MJ comparisons and I think Kobe never really feels any real peace with his level of accomplishment. He must be best at everything he does in basketball. I really hope he finds some peace once he retires and looks back on his career, but I doubt he will find it before then.

    Genius in any endeavor frequently skews other personality traits and the person is often a bit of an ‘odd duck’. I think Kobe is a genius at the game of basketball and this makes us more critical of his other personality traits. This is often true of sports heroes and celebrities. It is why they crave some privacy away from the rest of us. Even Magic doesn’t let people into key parts of his world. Kobe takes this to an extreme – that is his personality trait (me against the world – and, from the evidence of history, who can blame him?).


  29. 27. To answer Chise, what you just said but I think his drive and competitiveness are key. That said, I was looking for other insights as well. Thanks Craig W.


  30. Kurt,
    Re your #26. I’d say Michael Jordan.
    MJ exploded onto the scene just as Kobe was going thru adolescence. For the first time a player was being called the best player of his time w/no other equal. To a young man growing up in foreign cultures the fact Jordan was not seen as a social person,but instead was all about basketball proved that being a loner,a fish out of water,did not matter.
    I imagine for a young Kobe Jordan started out as his hero. His dad probably disparaged the assorted players of his generation and a little beyond. And Kobe had to know his dad had some serious flaws as a player,otherwise he wouldn’t be in Italy. But MJ was new,he was praised by all as the greatest player of his time,then of all time as Kobe was focusing on basketball.
    As Kobe grew into his body,realized he too was incredibly gifted and honed his skills I imagine Jordan morphed into the standard by which Kobe measured himself and finally Jordan became the mark which Kobe must surpass.(Amatuer psychoanalyzing at it’s most shallow-but we have the accounts of Kobe’s High School girlfriend of their dates being sitting on the couch watching film of Jordan,the First All-Star “duel” and the numerous accounts of Kobe imitating Jordan in a wide variety of ways.)
    The fixation on surpassing the best player of all time goes a long way towards explaining why Kobe Bryant has become KOBE!


  31. Don’t ignore #25 now people…


  32. Carter,
    Re your #25,I,ve pretty much given up watching football because of all the commercial breaks. I stopped following baseball after they let a strike kill the World Series. Itried watching a few games @4 yrs ago and the constant barrage of commercials quickly ended that.
    The NBA has kept them in check for the most part-yeah they are longer commercial breaks,but if it’s not a network game and there’s not a ton of free throws,the games move along well enough. The pace of NBA games slowed down when Hubie Brown and Mike Fratello showed playing “possesion” basketball gave bad teams a chance to stay in games and maybe steal a win in the final moments. And getting beat 89-84 looks alot better to the fans than losing 104-91 does. W/Phoenix showing up-tempo can be made to work,we’re probably see alot of mediocre teams in the near future try to up-tempo the game figuring A:more fans will come to see a more exciting style of basketball and B:since they don’t have the talent that the rapid pace lessens the impact of dominant players. In a slow close game,a Kobe can suddenly hit 3-4 shots in a row and put a team away. In a more rapid paced game there are more possesions so a Kobe does not have the same impact as the ball will not always be in his hands.


  33. Carter,
    I don’t watch games live anymore, so I really can’t comment.


  34. Carter, I’m also king of Tivoing games (especially games I want to watch closely, so I can rewind key plays. The only time I watch stuff live is in bars, and then I have something else to do during commercials…..


  35. Carter,

    In my country the NBA games start no earlier than midnight or 1 am, so there aren’t a lot of commercial breaks.

    Regarding footbal, I usually stream an american channel (no other way to see games here) and yes… the amount of commercial breaks is absurd…


  36. So I guess we’re all in agreement.

    Tivo is king.


  37. DVR is king (TiVo doesn’t want to go the way of escalator and aspirin).

    But man does TiVo knock all the other competitors out of the competition, like Tiger, Federer, and Team USA (I’m going with Jokovic to win the US Open).